U.S. Troops Are Leaving Because Iraq Doesn't Want Them There

President Obama announced that he had kept a campaign promise by ending the war -- but he didn't have much of a choice

US soldier Iraq - AP - banner.jpg

President Obama's speech formally declaring that the last 43,000 U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year was designed to mask an unpleasant truth: The troops aren't being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. They're leaving because the Iraqi government refused to let them stay.

Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq but had instead spent the past few months trying to extend it. A 2008 security deal between Washington and Baghdad called for all American forces to leave Iraq by the end of the year, but the White House -- anxious about growing Iranian influence and Iraq's continuing political and security challenges -- publicly and privately tried to sell the Iraqis on a troop extension. As recently as last week, the White House was trying to persuade the Iraqis to allow 2,000-3,000 troops to stay beyond the end of the year.

Those efforts had never really gone anywhere; One senior U.S. military official told National Journal last weekend that they were stuck at "first base" because of Iraqi reluctance to hold substantive talks.

That impasse makes Obama's speech at the White House on Friday less a dramatic surprise than simple confirmation of what had long been expected by observers of the moribund talks between the administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which believes its own security forces are more than up to the task of protecting the country from terror attacks originating within its borders or foreign incursions from neighboring countries.

In Washington, many Republican lawmakers had spent recent weeks criticizing Obama for offering to keep a maximum of 3,000 troops in Iraq, far less than the 10,000-15,000 recommended by top American commanders in Iraq. That political point-scoring helped obscure that the choice wasn't Obama's to make. It was the Iraqis', and a recent trip to the country provided vivid evidence of just how unpopular the U.S. military presence there has become -- and just how badly the Iraqi political leadership wanted those troops to go home.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, for instance, is a hugely pro-American politician who believes Iraq's security forces will be incapable of protecting the country without sustained foreign assistance. But in a recent interview, he refused to endorse a U.S. troop extension and instead indicated that they should leave.

"We have serious security problems in this country and serious political problems," he said in an interview late last month at his heavily guarded compound in Baghdad. "Keeping Americans in Iraq longer isn't the answer to the problems of Iraq. It may be an answer to the problems of the U.S., but it's definitely not the solution to the problems of my country."

Shiite leaders -- including many from Maliki's own Dawaa Party -- were even more strongly opposed, with followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatening renewed violence if any American troops stayed past the end of the year. The Sadr threat was deeply alarming to Iraqis just beginning to rebuild their lives and their country after the bloody sectarian strife which ravaged Iraq for the past eight and a half years.

Presented by

Yochi J. Dreazen

Yochi Dreazen is writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In